We are a group of young people living with disability who are passionate about making changes. Like anyone, sometimes we go through some pretty rough times. We’ve all had experiences of when people have said thoughtless or discriminatory things, or when they have been patronising.
While at school
- When I was in year 7 I was the best in spelling but I was put in the ‘special class’. They said that they wanted to make the class smaller. It made no sense.
- I was asked if I wanted to attend the sex ed class or if I wanted to attend something else. What’s going on with that?
Out on the town
- I was out with my sister at the theatre and they had to remove a chair for me and then they had to do the same for someone else who was in a wheelchair in front of me. Then the guy walked past me and said ‘it is one of those nights tonight’. Apparently guys in wheelchairs are not meant to go out? Sometimes people do not think about what they are saying.
There are other things too:
You get stared at and this makes you feel awkward.
One day when my limp was quite bad I was yelled at on the street, they swore at me, telling me to walk ‘properly’ and that really affected me.
A friend of mine with MS walks in a wonky way and someone asked her once if it wasn’t too early to be drinking. And when I went to nightclubs they used to think I was drunk even though I was sober. People didn’t believe me when I explained and that made it worse.
If your disability is invisible:
Someone might say on public transport, ‘you can stand up’. When really you can’t.
These things hurt your feelings. They make you not want to go out anymore.
For some of us, it brings a shock and surprise. I don’t cop it all the time but when I do it is like @@@@ did that just happen?
For others, we get used to it which means it is not a surprise.
What other people do
When hard things happen, we often turn to friends or family. How they respond makes a difference:
- What doesn’t work is when people try to tell me what to do or say, ‘I know how you feel’. Even if I experience something similar I don’t say, ‘I know how you feel’, because everyone is different. Saying ‘I am there for you’ can mean a lot.
- When someone listens and takes it seriously, but also looks to see the funny side of things. That works for me.
- When I went through some experiences, friends showed me pictures of dogs on a website. They were cute and funny and made me laugh!
- Taking some time out and trying to put it into perspective helps me. Sometimes when you say it out loud it sounds ridiculous and you can see that it is not a reflection on you but on the person who said it.
And we each have philosophies that get us through.
Adversity is power
I draw strength from having got through hard times before. Power through adversity is a self-taught thing. Everything we learn in life takes time and effort. Whether it is learning something new or painting a picture, it’s about perseverance. It’s about realising that if you have the death of a family member, once you have learnt to deal with this, then you can help others who are dealing with loss. Your grief now can help you and others with difficulties that arise in the future. Adversity is power.
We’re in this together
It took me a while to realise that it’s okay to ask for help, to rely on networks of family and friends. I was still walking then. It was a year after I was diagnosed and I was going through a period of remission. I wasn’t using my walking stick. We were down staying at Port Willunga for three weeks with friends. There was a time at the beach when I thought why not go for a swim. So I did. The waves did not seem too rough. But when I went into the water I realised this was a bad idea and the waves were strong and I found it hard to stand up. They were small but powerful and kept knocking me down. So I had to get my best mate and his dad to carry me out of the water and onto dry land. This was a sign of how to get through the hard times that lie ahead for me. The waves are going to keep coming but if I am standing with my family, my friends, I’m not going to be scared. I have their support with me. I am not scared because even if I get knocked down by the waves, with their help I can get out of the water and on to dry land.
There’s a saying about this:
If you can’t walk you crawl, if you can’t crawl find someone who can carry you.
We all deal with discrimination in different ways:
- Trying to understand can be helpful sometimes, but so can a bit of a FU attitude!
- Trying to make a difference and tackle some of the issues head on can turn it into a positive thing.
- Seeing other people take action is a powerful thing too. Sometimes this happens on the internet, people try to raise awareness and I really appreciate that. It’s important to know that your government and community actually care about your wellbeing and enjoyment of your life.